Question of the Day: Where Does Dirty Harry Miss the Target on Handgun Reality?

I watched ‘Dirty Harry’ for the first time when it debuted in the early 70s. These days the rogue cop movie genre is little more than a cartoon. Should it die in a hail of movie-goer apathy? It should. No one kept it party real like Clint. That said, the gunplay in ‘Dirty Harry’ movie is a little suspect (and I don’t mean Joe Pesci). The first gun battle where Inspector Callahan pops the driver of the robbery vehicle strikes me as a realistic possibility. In my unstudied opinion, a skilled marksman would be able to send the driver to the great bank job in the sky. But I wonder about the net result of the shootout at Kezar Stadium in which Harry blew a hole in the lowlife . . .

Harry was a principled guy, so the audience knew that he wouldn’t back-shoot the scumbag. Plus he needed to grind out a little missing person information. But this leads me to my question: would a leg wound produced by Harry’s trusty weapon pulverize the mass murderer/rapist’s leg to an arterial bleeding-out point of no return? Would the guy’s leg be obliterated by a .44 mag round and would ‘Dirty Harry’ consequently be a much shorter movie?

Another question concerns the famous final scene in which Harry finally gets a spectacular kill shot on the misfit. I assume that the impact of the slug would not back the guy into a stylish half-gainer into the water. Am I right in assuming that Harry would have dropped him right on the spot where the bullet hit the guy?

Are there other examples of cinematic license? Anyhow, I love the movie no matter what. it’s just that I ask more questions about reality the older I get. At least until senility enters the picture. (As Harry might say, getting older’s not for pussies.) Set me straight.


  1. avatar Wes says:

    Pretty sure early on in the movie Harry says he’s using weaker-than-standard bullets. Guess I’ll have to watch it again to make sure.

  2. avatar TTACer says:

    “I assume that the impact of the slug would not back the guy into a stylish half-gainer into the water. Am I right in assuming that Harry would have dropped him right on the spot where the bullet hit the guy?”

    We covered this in another post.

    Weaker bullets or not, I think a four-four mag to the leg could easily have killed the guy.

  3. avatar supton says:

    Well, let’s see.

    A baseball weighs about 5oz. That’s nearly 2,200 grains. If I pitcher chucks the ball at a batter at 90mph, it has some 85 ft-lb of energy. Now, 44mag has what, 1,200 ft-lb of energy (according to wikipedia); in a pistol it’s gotta be less than that. Still, even with a 10x disparity in energy, I don’t think anyone’s been thrown backward by catching a ball.

    Plus, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. If a bullet striking someone could knock them backwards, then the recoil on the shooter has to have the same energy. It can be tempered–that is, slowed down–by gun mass; but ultimately the shooter has to dissapate the same rearward energy. So, nope, I don’t see flying backwards as being possible.

    Leg shot with a 44? Maybe if it was ball ammo, or JSP–no expansion, and misses bone as well as artery. Otherwise, “it shoulda blown his leg, clean off”.

  4. avatar Larry says:

    When asked why he used a .44, Callahan replied that “light specials” won’t bounce off auto windshields like .38s. I take that to mean he’s shooting .44 Specials instead of .44 Magnum rounds.

  5. avatar DonWorsham says:

    Harry used .44 Specials for practice. .44 Magnums for duty.

  6. avatar Don Curton says:

    I’d much rather watch Dirty Harry with those minor indiscretions than that Lethal Weapon sequel with armor piercing cop-killer bullets that will go clean through the blade of a bulldozer with no problem, but the heroine is saved because she wore two kevlar jackets instead of one.

  7. avatar Don Curton says:

    How about that god-awful Whoopie Goldberg flick where she’s shooting some guy with a Winchester rifle, no dice cause he’s wearing body armor. Then she pulls her S&W pistol and blows him ten feet through the air. I can’t believe I watched that. Two hours of my life lost that I’m still pissed about.

  8. avatar JOE MATAFOME says:

    I love Dirty Harry and I’m a magnum freak because of good ole Clint. The 44 cal round wound not have had enough energy to push anyone off their feet that drastically. The 44 would also not have been capable of blowing someones head clean off as good ole Clint claimed in the movie, but that leg wound would have been lethal. Now I’m not putting the 44 mag down cuz I pretty much love all magnums. Now if Clint had the S&W 500 he still wouldn’t have knocked the badguy back ten feet, but he would have definitely blown his head clean off(and the leg would have also been history).

  9. avatar DonM says:

    First, energy is the wrong measure. The right one is momentum. Even shotguns don’t provide enough momentum to knock a guy over, unless it is enough to knock the shooter over. Equal and opposite reactions, as Mr. Newton used to say.

    Second, yes, you can make a guy take a half gainer, if you hit close to nervous tissue. There are reactions to being shot and having your spinal cord damaged. The film of JFK being shot shows when the first bullet clipped his spine, his elbows came up, and he arched his back. That is a reflex. If you shoot the spinal chord (about as big around as your pinky) you get that reaction.

    1. avatar CadillacWerewolf says:

      That’s… kinda disturbing.

    2. avatar DefaultSam says:

      You either get that or an inward drawing of the limbs with spinal damage. Can’t remember the proper terms but I recall the outward moving reaction was worse than the inward drawing one as far as signifying the extent of the damage

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